Now that the EPL is returning on Wednesday after a break of 100 days, we felt the time is right to analyze the key markets at the top of the standings and at the opposite end of the table. Liverpool resumes the season 25 points clear of their nearest rivals, Manchester City, and is expected to wrap up the team’s first domestic title in 30 years needing just two wins to be crowned champion. Liverpool could, of course, claim the title at the home of neighbor Everton if Pep Guardiola’s side loses at home to Arsenal in its first match back.
Defending champion City and third-placed Leicester will believe they have done enough to secure a place in next season’s Champions League by finishing in the top four. But who will join them?
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Chelsea (-167) restarts the campaign occupying the fourth spot, but it’s fair to say they are not sitting comfortably. Their three-point advantage over Manchester United, one place below them in the standings, could be wiped out in one round of fixtures. With regard to the remaining fixtures, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side has a more favorable set of games to finish the season with. They don’t have to face either Liverpool or Manchester City while Chelsea does. In fact, United (+175) has the “easiest” set of fixtures based on the average league position of the nine teams they have to play. Before the league’s suspension, United was finding a bit of form with three wins and two draws from their last five games. That run coincided with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo, who have had an immediate impact at Old Trafford. Chelsea went into the break with two wins and a draw from their last three with their own emerging star in Billy Gilmour. Chelsea has lost to both Liverpool and City this season already – both by 2-1 scorelines – but playing in empty stadiums could be a benefit for Frank Lampard’s side. Wolves (+800) and Sheffield United (+1,400) cannot be ruled out of the conversation either. Both sides are locked on 43 points, but Chris Wilder’s side has 10 matches left to play compared to the nine remaining games for Wolves. If you were considering one of these two sides to gatecrash the top four, the Blades could be the one to back. Wolves has the possible distraction of the conclusion of this season’s Europa League, which will be discussed by UEFA next week. If the competition is allowed to continue, Wolves could have even more fixtures crammed into an already congested calendar. Sheffield United offers greater value, but they have a five-point disadvantage to overcome.
If Sheffield United fails to make up the ground and finish in the top four, they are great value at +200 to secure a top-six spot, especially if Wolves, who are currently sixth, have Europa League ties to fulfill. Nuno Espirito Santo’s side drew their Round of 16, first leg 1-1 at Olympiacos before COVID-19 brought everything to a halt. Winning the Europa League will give Wolves a place in next season’s Champions League, which is a nice contingency plan to fall back on if they fail to land a top-four finish. Wolves are +120 to finish in the top six. Arsenal (+225) has been involved in European competitions for the past 25 seasons, but that run is in danger of coming to an end. Resuming ninth in the table, the Gunners have their work cut out to ensure they are playing against the best sides in Europe next season. Manager Mikael Arteta has 10 games to give his side’s season some meaning. Their north London neighbors Tottenham (+200), who have one game less to play than their rivals, will have Europe in their crosshairs too. Jose Mourinho was appointed as Mauricio Pochettino’s replacement to bring some overdue success to the Spurs and a failure to qualify for Europe will not sit well with the board of directors or their supporters. Burnley (+6,000) is not a million miles away from a place in the top six. The Clarets are just four points off the pace, but their odds are increased because they have to face Liverpool and Manchester City away from home. They have already lost at Leicester and Chelsea, so maybe their high odds are justified. But what a story it would be if Sean Dyche guided his side to a second European campaign in three seasons.
Many have Norwich already relegated to the Championship after just one season back in the top flight. The Canaries, who spent just £1m on transfers last summer, have probably avoided looking at the league table during the lockdown given the fact they are bottom, four points behind Aston Villa in 19th place. That gap could be extended to six points if Villa wins their catch-up game against Sheffield United. There is very little value in backing Norwich to finish bottom (-250) or getting relegated (-1,430). So where are the better value bets? Villa is a curious case. Dean Smith’s side has 30 points to play for while all around them have a maximum of 27 points on offer. In Jack Grealish, Villa has a rising star, but he cannot guide Villa to safety on his own. If they can win their game in hand, then the Villans will move out of the bottom three. In fact, they will climb from 19th to 16th and it could set them on their survival journey. Villa is -250 to be relegated, but odds of +175 to stay up should be considered, especially if you think they can beat the Blades first up. Villa has the second-toughest schedule ahead of them. The team with the toughest remaining fixtures is Bournemouth and you have to wonder if their time in the Premier League is running out after four seasons. They are the same price to stay up (-118) as they are to be relegated (-118), but the smart money would be on them to drop out of the league given the fact they have to face five of the sides currently in the top eight. The break may have come at a good time for West Ham in their bid to avoid relegation. Despite not being able to get his philosophies across to his players on the training ground in the past three months, manager David Moyes hopes his messages have landed during virtual meetings so that when his players take the field in their opening game at home to Wolves they are ready. Moyes has won two of his 10 league games since returning to manage the club at the end of 2019. After winning his first league game in charge, the Hammers have picked up five points from a possible 27, making relegation (+175) a real possibility. When Watford host Leicester in their first game back, the Hornets (+225) could find themselves in the bottom three if Villa beats Sheffield United. Of the nine teams they have to play, Watford has failed to beat eight of them in the reverse fixtures prior to the break. And the team they have already beaten that they have left to play is basement Norwich. With fixtures staggered over different days, the relegation picture will change a lot between now and the end of the season.
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